While professional athletes can seem like superheroes, they’re human beings just like the rest of us. In 2001, Korey Stringer provided a tragic reminder of that reality. During the first six seasons of his NFL career, the Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman grew into a beloved teammate and a Pro Bowler. During training camp, however, everything changed.
On August 1, 2001, Korey Stringer died from multiple organ failure due to heatstroke. He was 27-years old at the time.
Korey Stringer’s football career
Most football fans will probably remember Korey Stringer from his time with the Minnesota Vikings. His football career, however, obviously didn’t begin in the NFL.
After high school, Stringer headed to Ohio State, where he joined the Buckeyes football team. The offensive lineman spent three years with the squad, blocking for the likes of Eddie George and growing into an All-American talent. “He was probably the greatest tackle in Ohio State history as far as athletic ability and attitude,” the running back told Rusty Miller of the Associated Press, according to the Buckeyes’ official website. “He brought that toughness to the line and (was) a great guy to be around in the locker room.”
On the back of that college career, Stringer left Columbus to enter into the 1995 NFL draft; the Minnesota Vikings selected him at the tail end of the first round. While life in the pros wasn’t easy—the tackle was famously torched by Reggie White early in his career—the big lineman found a home in the NFC North.
Stringer spent six seasons with the Vikings, starting 91 of a possible 96 games. He made the Pro Bowl in 2000 but was known as much for his character and generosity as for anything he did on the field. As documented in a Sports Illustrated feature, Stringer helped a Vikings fan fix a flat tire after a game, used his Pro Bowl check to support a youth football program, and handed out handfuls of candy to shy children on Halloween.
A tragic death that shook the NFL
During most football seasons, training camp is more of a formality than anything else. In 2001, however, the tail end of summer was marred by Korey Stringer’s tragic death.
As remembered by Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report, Stringer and the Minnesota Vikings hit the field for the second morning of preseason practices at the tail end of July. It was a hot morning, and the offensive line was slated to do some extra work. Everyone struggled, but Stringer seemed to be in worse shape than the others.
“Korey was just like everybody else,” fellow lineman David Dixon explained. “And then, one time, he slowly went down to the ground. He went down to the knee and then rolled over.”
Stringer called for a trainer and left the field; he would never return. The lineman headed to the hospital, where he died in the early hours of August 1. As documented by the Washington Post, an autopsy confirmed that he “died of multiple organ failure due to heatstroke.”
Korey Stringer, however, did not die in vain
On that fateful day in August 2001, Korey Stringer died from complications of heatstroke. His death, however, didn’t have to be in vain.
Stringer’s widow, Kelci, started working to ensure that no one else would have to follow in Korey’s tragic footsteps. She teamed up with the University of Connecticut heatstroke expert Douglas Casa and, in 2010, founded the Korey Stringer Institute.
According to the institute’s website, it aims to ” provide research, education, advocacy, and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety and prevent sudden death for the athlete, warfighter, and laborer.” The organization has also partnered with the likes of the NFL, Gatorade, and the National Athletic Trainers Association to further its goals.
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference